“A Toast to great companies and great beer”
We are very excited to be chatting with Robert Wilson of Toast Ale Ltd today. As you may have noticed, we’ve dedicated several interviews and a session at eBev this year to looking at socially conscious food and beverage entrepreneurs. Today Rob, Chief Toast Officer of Toast Ale, is going to talk about how he’s helped to turn over 700,000 slices of bread into an award-winning beer – and who they’re reaching in the process.
As always, we have our questions for Rob, and please feel free to ask any of your own…
Rob, thanks so much for being with us today!
Hi there – you’re super welcome. It’s great to be with you today.
Rob, it’s been such a pleasure for those of us at eBev each year (or following along with BMA via these interviews) to explore the social and economic impact of food and beverage entrepreneurs leveraging edible upcycling to create products that are “win-win-win” as you’ve said of Toast Ale in the past. I’d like to get started by asking you to share a little more about Toast Ale: what’s the heritage story, and how is the beer actually made?
We were founded in January 2016 by my friend Tristram Stuart, an author and campaigner on the environmental and social impacts of food production. We launched with endorsement from chef and restauranteur Jamie Oliver.
Did you know bread is the biggest food waste in the world – 44% of the bread produced in the UK is never consumed and it’s about 30-35% in the US? And…. beer is the third most consumed drink in the world after water and tea. And… the first ever beer recipe from a few thousand years ago was brewed with surplus bread!
So….. we have put two and two together to create Toast! We source surplus bread from bakeries and sandwich makers, using it to replace one-third of the virgin grain. We add only malted barley, hops, yeast and water. This brews up our delicious range of Toast Beers.
As a serial social entrepreneur yourself, what are some critical determinants of social and economic viability for other social entrepreneurs? And what in particular led you to Toast, and the belief that it can be one of the most impactful organizations you’ve ever been a part of?
It was a no-brainer. Tristram and I first talked back in late 2015 about his idea and as soon as he said ‘start a beer company brewing beer with surplus bread’ I was sold! He’s an outstanding social entrepreneur and inspirational leader. He’d recently tried a beer brewed with bread by an awesome brewery called ‘The Brussels Beer Project’. He asked them if he could use their recipe to launch a beer company in the UK and I instantly saw a huge opportunity to create the absolute dream social enterprise business model. I have founded a few different social enterprises in the past, co-written a book about social enterprises and have spent a few years working at Ashoka (a support agency for changemakers) but this ideas was by far the most EPIC!
So as a small team, we went about creating some of the core founding principles that have guided us to this day:
1. To produce great craft beer that consumers love.
2. To eliminate bread waste directly through brewing.
3. To raise awareness of the problems of, and solutions to, food waste.
4. To donate all our profits to the environmental charity ‘Feedback’ (which Tristram founded) and other international food waste organizations.
Lets talk about the brand and your fans. “Who” does Toast Ale speak to, and where are you finding the most success in reaching/engaging with that consumer? Are you the socially conscious option in craft beer bars, are you the beer option in socially conscious restaurants….or are you all of the above?
Ha – rapidly becoming all of the above. As I just mentioned – number one on our founding principles is to brew great beer. We’re super proud that we’ve now won heaps of awards for our beers when blind taste-tested and people don’t know about our cuddly story. We dreamed and hoped that was going to happen when we first started and it’s awesome that it now is!
This will sound like common sense, because it is! If someone walks into a bar and wants a decent beer, then they ultimately want a decent beer. That’s the number one purpose it needs to serve. The fact that it’s a really decent beer that is good for the planet and pours funding into brilliant charities is a fantastic added bonus!
Our brand mission statement is “if you want to change the world you need to throw a better party than those destroying it”. This underpins a lot of our brand activation – lots of events and parties. We want to celebrate changing the world, we think it’s worth it!
One question I generally have for folks in your position (social brands/entrepreneurs) is: how important is educating the consumer as you plot your roadmap (and what kind of resources are you aiming in that direction)? So far, your edible upcycling constituents have expressed a great deal of interest/importance when it comes to consumer education.
As I mention above – this is one of the core principles for our business. We want to educate and inform millions of consumers about the horrors of food waste and the huge environmental impact it is having. We definitely don’t want to appear preachy or righteous however – we’re a beer company after all. But this is the most urgent issue of our time and we think beer is an accessible way to communicate some important facts. So we put key food waste facts and stats on our cans/bottles. E.g. 1/3 of the food we produce in the world goes to waste; 44% of bread in the UK is waste; 46 million slices of bread are binned every day in the UK; etc… The more brand awareness our story gets the more people will read about the bigger issues we are addressing – that makes us very proud.
Finally, I love asking folks to look into their crystal ball and tell us what they see coming. Where do you see Toast Ale, and the edible upcycling food segment as a whole, in 5 years?
World domination – obviously 😉. We’re already brewing in the UK, USA, Brazil, Iceland and South Africa. We open sourced our recipe which has been downloaded 50,000 times so far (and counting). And we get daily demand from all corners of the world to bring Toast to their country. Given our environmental principles we’re reluctant to export our beer, so we want to set up local brewing operations in partnerships with other breweries. This is clearly a slight barrier and challenge to growth however. We have exciting plans to launch some new tech in the coming months that will connect breweries, bakeries and food waste orgs the world over in order to scale our impact beyond the open source recipe. We’ve been copied by dozens of other breweries and initiatives the world over, including major retailers who have copied the idea. We’d rather they worked with us, but we’re pleased to see they’re at least creating some impact.
For the broader food industry, I think the circular economy will continue to rise and rise – it’s booming at the moment which is so great to see. There are so many other brilliant businesses out there like Regrained, Snact, Rubies in the Rubble, and many more who are making delicious products that are also doing good. We’re a certified BCorps also and so many great businesses in that community worth looking up.
That’s a good aim 🙂 Rob, thank you so much for sharing your amazing story with our audience today. Keep up the good work!!!
You’re more than welcome. We’re deep into ‘silly season’ at the moment for beer sales, so straight back to it for me. Happy Holidays to you and your networks. I hope this has been an enjoyable read. We still have so much to learn – we’re learning every day! I’d love to hear from others about their experiences also.
Feel free to take a look at my TedX to learn a little more about our journey to date: https://youtu.be/Rz8m1yDE0ms
And of course a shameless plug to drive people to our website: www.toastale.com – we’re on sale throughout the UK & in the USA we’re in NY, MA, CT. We’re also in Brazil, South Africa and Iceland. The website will point you in the right direction.
And be sure to tag us on all the social media channels – if I don’t ask my social media manager will kill me ;). We’re @toastale on all social channels. And join us to #raiseatoast to ending food waste one beer at a time. Speak soon Seth – keep up the awesome work!
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